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1988 Toyota 4Runner: Black Magic

Posted in Features on June 6, 2018
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Decades before Jeep introduced the four-door Wrangler Unlimited, Toyota offered a small SUV that seated four, had a removable top, and boasted plenty of trail prowess. No, it didn’t have four doors, but when it was introduced in 1984 the 4Runner was an immediate hit with off-roaders who wanted to bring the entire family along. The 1984 and 1985 models are still coveted for their factory solid front axles, and the 1985 is especially prized for its stellar fuel-injected 22RE engine (compared with the carbureted 22R engine of the 1984). And although not as easy to modify for severe off-road use as the solid axle, every 1986 and newer IFS 4Runner had the injected 22RE engine (1988 brought a 3.0L 3VZ-E V-6 option) as well as a rear axle with a wider track that pushed bigger tires out away from the framerails and increased stability.

In many ways, adding a solid front axle to a first-gen IFS 4Runner of this era is the “easy” way to create the ultimate first-gen 4Runner. And that’s pretty much what Paolo Cividino started with when he began building his 1988 4Runner with IFS and a 3.0L V-6 engine. It only got wilder from there.

While shopping for a hunting rig, Paolo was looking for a stock 4Runner that he planned to lift and lock. His good friend and longtime wheeler Daniel Keyes of Class 1 Motorsports knew that Paolo wouldn’t stop there though. As owner of Tutto Ferro, Paolo does industrial metal fabrication for a living. With a water jet at his disposal it would be too easy to make parts for the 4Runner. His time is better spent completing projects for customers though, so he bought a 4Runner that already had a solid-axle swap and custom bumpers from Addicted Off Road.

The 4Runner was put into service as a hunting and camping rig from day one without the need for a long build process. Never one to leave things alone though, Paolo still tweaked the Toyota to fit his specific tastes. The biggest change was the replacement of factory Toyota mini truck axles in favor of fabricated Diamond Axle housings that are wider and stronger. The front uses a high-pinion 80 Series third member and RCV chromoly Birfields, while the rear is a full floater with a 9.5-inch Land Cruiser third member. These might seem like expensive upgrades, but to put things in perspective Paolo still has less money into his 4Runner than a stock four-door Wrangler would have cost.

Power comes from a 3VZ-E 3.0L V-6 engine. Much like the original V-6 in the JK Unlimited, this engine has a somewhat tarnished reputation. When the head gasket inevitably blows, Paolo Cividino plans to swap in a more powerful and more reliable 5VZ-FE 3.4L V-6. There was no power steering pump bracket available for this black sheep engine, so Daniel Keyes built one for Paolo.
When the weather is questionable, Paolo runs a Softopper top and full hard doors. Removing the top and swapping to the custom half-doors only takes a matter of minutes, with the longest part of the process being disconnecting the wires to the door speakers. A Rugged Radios intercom with four headsets makes it easy for the whole family to communicate regardless of wind noise.
Daniel Keyes of Class 1 Motorsports built the rollcage out of 1.75x0.120-wall tubing and tied it into the frame in six places. The front legs pass through the dash, and the ’cage is compact enough to still allow the use of a top. Tube clamps were used behind the rear seat to allow the structure to be rotated up when Paolo goes hunting. He can fit an ice chest with a full pig in the back of the 4Runner!
The front axle is a 63.5-inch-wide fabricated housing from Diamond Axle with a high-pinion 8-inch third member filled with 4.88 Yukon gears and a full spool. RCV chromoly axleshafts work in conjunction with Trail-Gear Six Shooter knuckles and steering arms. Trail-Gear chromoly spindles and hubs are used with upgraded 14mm wheel studs.
Gearing comes from a relatively rare R151F transmission found in turbocharged 22RE-T trucks. Unlike the pedestrian R150F, this transmission accepts a 23-spline gear-driven transfer case without the need for an adapter. The dual transfer cases use an adapter and gears from Marlin Crawler, with 4.7:1 gears in the rear case for a crawl ratio of 244:1.
The rear axle uses a 63-inch-wide fabricated Diamond Axle housing with a 9.5-inch Land Cruiser third member. Locker options are limited for this application, so the factory differential was welded up and mated to 4.88 Yukon gears. The full-floating rear end uses RCV axleshafts and Trail-Gear chromoly spindles and hubs with disc brakes.
Coilovers are great, but the Deaver leaf springs and 2-inch-diameter, 12-inch-travel remote-reservoir King shocks ride surprisingly well while being simple, economical, and incredibly reliable. The wider axle allows the rear shocks to be mounted outside of the frame rather than having to punch through the tub and take up valuable interior space.
Rolling stock consists of 37x12.50R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs wrapped around 17x9 Trail-Gear Creeper Locks. Paolo had the wheels powdercoated gold to stand out and contrast the black paint. We love how it turned out.

Tech Specs

1988 Toyota 4Runner
Engine: 3.0L V-6
Transmission: R151F 5-speed manual
Transfer Case: Dual Toyota cases with Marlin Crawler adapter
Front Axle: Diamond Axle with high pinion 8-inch third member, full spool, 4.88 Yukon gears
Rear Axle: Diamond Axle with 9.5 Land Cruiser welded differential, 4.88 Yukon gears
Springs & Such: Deaver leaf springs and King remote reservoir shocks (front and rear)
Tires & Wheels: 37x12.50R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs on 17x9 Trail-Gear Creeper Locks
Steering: Hydraulic assist with PSC hydraulic ram, pump, and reservoir; 1 1/4-inch chromoly tie rod and drag link with 3/4-inch FK rod ends
Other Stuff: Custom rollcage by Class 1 Motorsports, Softopper top, custom half-doors, Rugged Radios intercom, MasterCraft Safety Baja RS seats, Rebco quick release, Joe’s Racing Products steering wheel, Addicted Off Road bumpers, Smittybilt XRC8 winch, Trail-Gear Duraline winch line, Factor55 Flatlink, Optima YellowTop battery

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